Thursday, January 24, 2013

How to pay for future transit? MTC to study

Mecklenburg's transit agency, the Metropolitan Transit Commission, is launching a study group to look at how to pay for future transit projects.

According to a news release from Charlotte Mayor and MTC Chairman Anthony Foxx's office, the working group's leaders will be Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain, a Republican, and Charlotte City Council member David Howard, a Democrat who chairs the council's Transportation and Planning Committee.

Finding new money for transit projects beyond the Blue Line Extension has been difficult. Revenues from the half-cent sales tax for transit tumbled after the 2008 financial crash. Federal funding is highly competitive, and state transit funding has been cut and with a Republican-led General Assembly, may be cut further. The study group will look at a variety of transit-funding strategies, including tax-increment financing, synthetic tax-increment financing, special tax districts, and more.

  Here's the press release sent by Mayor Anthony Foxx's office:


Charlotte, NC — At a meeting of the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) Wednesday night, MTC Chair Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx urged the formation of a working group to study funding for future transit projects.  This action follows an October decision by the MTC to convene a workshop, currently scheduled for April, to consider and adopt strategies to fund the 2030 Transit Plan. 

The working group will be co-led by Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain and Charlotte City Councilman David Howard, and include MTC staff, MTC member mayors or their designees, and business and community leaders from participating jurisdictions.

“As I and many others have been saying, our funding environment has changed, making it harder to see any future transit projects happening over the next 10 to 20 years,” Foxx said.  “We need to explore all options available to us to complete, and perhaps accelerate, our long-term regional transit plans.  Connecting our region through transit is critical both to our future economic prosperity and to managing our exponential population growth.”

“I believe that if we are to have a vision for the future, it’s imperative for us as a collective group to look at creative financing mechanisms for our transit plan and explore anything that can help us achieve our goals,” Swain said.  “Analyzing our future transit issues is at least as important, if not more so, than addressing our current ones.”
“There’s nothing more important to Charlotte’s future than figuring out our mass transit system,” Howard said.  “I look forward to working with Mayor Swain and the rest of the working group to find ways to make sure we move our transit plan forward as it will be one of the things that will most define us as we go to the next level as a city and a region.”

The working group will submit its findings and recommendations to the MTC in a report due no later than April 15.  The group will consider such financing strategies as: Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), Synthetic Tax Increment Financing (STIFs), Tax Increment Grant (TIGs), Business Privilege Licensing Tax, sales tax revenue, and incremental property taxes.  It will also consider which strategies are currently available to local governments and which would require additional County, voter, and/or North Carolina General Assembly authorization. 

The Charlotte Area Transit System will be the lead agency in supporting the working group.

The formation of the working group comes at a critical time for the Charlotte region’s transit system:

  • Transit sales tax revenues dropped during the recession to 2005 levels, eliminating capacity to fund projects beyond the Blue Line Extension.
  • The Blue Line Extension, the single largest capital project in Charlotte’s history, has required increased property taxes from at least three jurisdictions.
  • The General Assembly has already eliminated $6 million in matching transit funding, increasing concerns that matches for future projects will be eliminated and may require increased local commitments.
  • New federal policies and funding approaches may make funding the 2030 Transit Plan less predictable than in previous years.
  • The Charlotte region is the fastest-growing urban area in the nation.

More information on the MTC’s 2030 Transit Plan is available here